Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Is he really guilty?

Sharp at 6 am without fail, I daily hear the bell ringing continuously from the adjacent flat with the smell of camphor burning accompanied by the low tone of prayers being said. It was an annoyance initially but gradually grew accustomed to it. In fact, I get up invariably with a guilty conscience. Raghav Chaturvedi, my neighbor for the last five years and junior in age by about ten years, is a devoted person given to prayers, daily puja with homa early in the morning to Sri Ram durbar. With a prominent Tilak on his forehead and a garland of Tulsi beads, he evokes instant respect. I think he gets up early in the morning at 4 am to complete the rituals in time for him to leave for work by 8 am. His wife Vanita seems a gentle lady and very supportive to her husband. They have two small children. On many days especially holidays they visit the nearby temples.
When I was having my breakfast one day, my wife Savitri came and sat by my side and said in hushed tone, “Yesterday, Vanita invited me to see the new dish washer installed in her place two days back. It is so comfortable and elegant to look. It seems it is completely automatic. They have already a washing machine. See how fortunate she is having no backbreaking workload on her.
“I am aware that these labour-saving devices reduces the work but they are both expensive especially if you go for a versatile model. I wonder how they could afford. I learn Raghav works as a junior executive in the commercial department of a private company. I feel he would not be drawing much more than me and has also no rich background as I could observe when I saw his parents when they visited him. I suspect something fishy,” I mentioned. 
“During the last three years, they have bought new furniture, a big double door fridge, Acs and exchanged the old bangles for new ones. I do not know whether they are well off or not. He must be earning well or bought some of them on instalments. Whatever, he is very considerate and loving providing Vanita all the comforts. Why cast aspersions on such a pious person, if you are unable to?” my wife replied. 
“I know what you are driving at. But, as an inspector in revenue department, just by seeing the face I can tell whether a person is honest or not. All this bell clanging, homa, camphor burning and puja early in the morning, I suspect, are all a camouflage to deceive the neighbourhood. This is one reason why I keep away from the guy. If he were in government, I could have in no time done something to find out his source of income,” I said.
 “I am disappointed with your professional habit of always doubting others’ honesty and disparaging them. In fact, many of my friends who visit me, often tell me why I could not reduce the burden of the domestic chores with these useful gadgets. Possibly they believe that with you being in revenue department all these can be easily acquired. They do not know that you are scrupulously honest and live frugally on what you get legally”. Savitri remonstrated. 
I got angry, “I do not want you to mingle anymore with Raghav’s family or invite your other nosy friends’ to our home to poison your mind like they do with their husbands in their greed.”
 My wife, a gullible and innocent person, trusting everyone unaware of the deceitful and corrupt ways most acquire goods and other assets, was miffed at my command. I do not discuss my financial matters with her.
A week later, when I reached home a little earlier than usual, I saw Vanita standing on the balcony. She opened the front door of her flat opposite mine and said, “Please come in and wait for a few minutes. I saw Savitri going out and should be back any time.” 
While I was hesitating, she insisted that I must come inside and bless them on Makar Sankranti day. I went in and found her husband was away. To my great shock, I found the house bare, bereft of even basic furniture. The walls were faded and the bare floor needed repairs. She drew a plastic chair and made me sit. When she excused herself to bring me tea, I looked around and could see no evidence of prosperity or even the basic needs that a modest home would need. The old fan was creaking making much noise. The curtains on the windows were in need of urgent replacement. I peeped into the dining place and found a cheap study table doing the duty of dining table and place for study. There were two chairs and two stools. The two children were looking emaciated and were in ordinary clothes. There was a lump in my throat and a sense of pity overcame.
Something is totally amiss here to what I was told about them. Where were the sofa sets, the split ACs, the colourful carpet that Savitri spoke about? I could sense immediately with my long experience that this was no cover-up to conceal some opulence but sadly real. I knew it would be foolish to find out if they had ACs, washing machine and dish washer that Savitri said they had. Nevertheless, to make sure, I told Vanita that there is occasional seepage in our balcony from the terrace and wished to see if they had a similar problem. She took me to the verandah through the kitchen. There was neither seepage nor the washing machine and dishwasher. There were only plastic buckets.
” I am very happy that you could visit our house on this auspicious day for the first time after so many years. My husband would be here anytime. Kindly have the tea,” she said as she placed a tray with a cup of tea, some pheda and namkeens. Luckily Raghav entered soon and seeing me seated there, he rushed towards me and touched my feet. Vanita and children also joined him to receive my blessings. I fished out a 500 rupee note from my pocket and gave it to the two children.
We chatted for a while as Savitri had not turned up. During the conversation, I learnt that his company was not doing well and was running on loss. The company paid only half the salary and that too in instalments for the last one year or so. He was passing through trying times as his parents at the village relied on his monthly remittance. Luckily as the flat belonged to him, he had a roof over him. I commiserated with him promising him of my effort to locate some good opening for him.
Soon Savitri came much earlier than my usual time and stood frozen with shock when she saw me on the plastic chair with Vanita’s family. I smiled at her and said, “Lucky you were away. Otherwise I would not have had the pleasure of meeting such a loving and pleasant family. You should have brought me here earlier instead of just sharing information about them. Come on, let us go.”
With two of us alone and children out playing, I asked her,” Savitri, tell me honestly why you were telling brazen lies about a good family making me dislike them. What benefit do you derive from it? Tell me the truth before my trust in you is completely shattered.”
Savitri squirmed in her seat and pleaded, “Kindly excuse this wretch. In my greed for a high end dishwasher and washing machine, good furniture and 16” mattress and a nice carpet, I was fabricating stories to tempt you to buy them for us. Since you were not kindly disposed to him due to his pious ways, I thought you may not go there at all. I promise that this mistake would not recur. Kindly pardon me I am proud that you are a very honest man of integrity.”
I patted her and said in assuring tone, “Do not worry. Don’t I know you. I can afford what all you wanted. But in my job not only I should be very honest but also seen to be so. If I show off, people will suspect me. I will get you one by one. Do not worry or discuss these matters with your friends.”
Savitri had become a transformed person and life was hunky dory till one day after a fortnight, a covered blue van stopped outside her building at 6AM in the morning. Everyone in the complex craned their necks through their balconies wondering what could bring half a dozen men to their colony so early and who they were after, till one of the men knocked at the doors of Satyanarayan. A policeman guarded their door while four men entered the apartment and nothing was heard from inside. After an agonizing wait, one of the men told the onlookers they were from CBI. Soon Satyanarayan was escorted to the van, while his wife was seen weeping inconsolably.
I forgot to tell you at the beginning, that my name is Satyanarayan. You have all seen how Spartan has been our living. They would not take my word but tell me that these are all cover up and they have concrete evidence of my shenanigans. What shenanigans I am not aware of, till they produce the evidence. I may be busy for a few months. Kindly take care of Savitri and the children. I promise they are lily white pure and know nothing of my official work.
Vanita turned to Raghav and said, “We will take care of her as our didi till he returns.”

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The last minute glitch

I know Siddarth, Sid as I call him, well since he became my colleague six years back. You cannot fault him if he attracted a bevy of young women yearning for his friendship. Such was his god given magnetic charm. I would not say he was tall at his 170 cms or boast of a six pack abdomen that film stars invariably flaunt. In fact, he was dusky with an unruly hair on his head that defied any styling but his chiseled face, his aquiline nose, the twinkling eyes and the spontaneous laughter that he broke into even over trivial remarks, made him a heart throb of women who came into contact.
Add to that the facts that he was a qualified engineer with a Wharton MBA. He held a senior position in a renowned company drawing a fat salary. He had a swanky car with a compact rented apartment in a posh colony. On a rough count it could be a dozen young female fans whom he regularly met individually or collectively. He never hid his friendships with them.
But he had some principles that he strictly followed. He took special care to keep friendships with female colleagues in office strictly formal and professional with no hint of romance. He also kept them away from his external friends.
He met his personal friends only after his office hours, took them out to restaurants or movies individually mostly and on occasions three or four by turn. He was a fun-loving guy who threw a party at his apartment on weekends to all of them once a while when in mood. A tactful guy he never left anyone feel she has been ignored or made it appear as anyone special. He never shared personal information of one with the other. The women trusted him as each one was left to feel that she was closer to him than others. There was seemingly no envy among these young women but one could sense an undemonstrated rivalry among them to win his hand.
He had confided once in a weak moment that he had different boundaries for these ladies with a couple of them friendly with him even before their marriage. I suspect he was a smooth operator and ensured the women got the impression that he just enjoyed being among them and revel in friendly banter and hoo-has than with any ulterior motive. They felt safe with him.
When I prodded him, “Do you have fancy for anyone among this lot as a potential life partner? You must be having a special and romantic interest with one individual? Though you might not have expressed it, you must have conveyed in other subtle ways.”
“Yes, you are right. I love one Shreya very much and I feel she Is also pining for me. I came to know of her only recently less than a year and find that her interests, taste, and attitude complement mine. In fact, I am waiting for the right moment to tell her.”
Sid has told me more than once that his mom, who was living alone in the village but with relatives around, has been pressurizing him for the last three or four years to get married. She often pleaded with him that she was sick and getting old and would like to see him married before she passed away. Having lost his dad in his early age, it was his mom who brought him up in difficult circumstances selling the property to fund his education. He loved her as apple of his eye and was ever grateful for the sacrifices she had made for him. He sent her money generously each month.
But he liked the present unattached life and put off the marriage to the extent possible till one day his dad’s cousin rang up from the village a fortnight back and informed that his mom has been unwell with high BP and had fainted a few times. The town doctor has prescribed her medicines. They had fixed a poor lady to be with his mom all the time and cook food for a monthly fee and that the amount was not much especially for him. He suggested Sid to visit her once immediately as it may have a calming effect on her who has been uttering his name frequently.
I do not know what happened during the visit but he said one day,” Sudhir, I have committed to my mom that I will marry within three months and keep her with me. She was very happy but indicated firmly that she would continue to remain at the village only.
“How are you planning to go about getting the lady after your heart? Would she be willing after your inaction all these months or do you need any help from me in scanning the matrimonial sites?”
” Why should I go out when I have one already in view? I know her well including her family details. I intend to invite all of them for a party at my place the coming Sunday without telling the purpose and break the news there,” he said with a happy smile.
“Would you need me to assist you there in the party?” I innocently asked.
“No, you will be an odd man out there. I will introduce them to you later after my engagement, Anyway, thanks, I can manage the get together.” he rebuffed with his usual boisterous laughter.” I will be at my home. Call me if you need any assistance.” I told him in serious tone.
 At 5 pm the next Sunday, the living room at Siddarth’s house was reverberating with Bollywood songs interrupted by peals of laughter, shrill screams along with clinking of glasses. There were fourteen women assembled there that included cousins of two invitees. The table at a corner had sweets from a nearby Bengali shop, Rajbog, Sandesh, Pantua resembling gulab jamoons and a pot full of misti doi. There were namkeens too like kachoris, samosas, dhokla, roasted cashew nuts and some other stuff. There were several soft drinks and a few bottles of other stuff.
The women were dancing to the tunes of latest Bollywood songs with total abandon. Seated from a vantage position, Siddarth, in denim and yellow Lucknowi kurta, was watching Shreya dance and sing on the sly without making it obvious. He announced after a while if they are willing they could start eating.
It was then one after the other, the women went to the only wash room attached to his bed room. As the door of washroom was not locking, they closed the bedroom door at his suggestion.
When the clock struck seven, he stood up and said,” I would like to make an important announcement soon. I will be right back. Please bear with me for a few minutes,” he said and went in after closing the door.
He went straight to the unlocked steel cupboard that had the key hanging there. He then opened the unlocked locker and took out a jewel box from under the pile of pressed shirts to see the Solitaire diamond ring he had purchased for proposing to lady of his choice. Lo, the ring was missing mysteriously to his great shock. It was not the outrageous amount he had paid for it that bothered him but the treachery of one of the assembled ladies that he could not stomach. He was certain as he had seen it just before they had arrived. It was obvious one of them had stolen it. Who could it be, he wondered but did not wish to embarrass all of them. He decided to explore further. He went out very casually with his trademark smile and announced that he had second thoughts about the news he wished to convey and would however meet them all again with in a week. There was a sense of disbelief and disappointment when they started dispersing especially from Shreya as Sid could see.
Without wasting time,I was there with a friend after I got the call from Sid. My friend is in a private detective agency. It was agreed that the mystery would be unraveled without embarrassing the innocent. Sid was prepared to lose the ring than miss any true friend. Agreed on that, the detective guy, started dusting the cupboard with chalk piece.
Suddenly he stopped the dusting and asked,” Do you have any friend in the group who is left-handed? Think carefully and tell as the prints indicate a woman who uses her left hand.”
“My God, how could it be Shreya? She is the only one who is left handed and whom I was to propose. It cannot be her. She is honest and I love her immensely. “he blurted.
“Let us call her and find out. Just tell her that you had wished to propose to her but the ring you bought for her was misplaced and hence you had to put off. Let us see her reaction,” I told him.
When Sid rang her up and conveyed her, she laughed and said, “I knew always that you had fallen head over heels for me and after this incident I wonder whether I should marry a blunderbuss to be my husband.”
“Shreya, I am serious. This is no time for frivolous talk. Please come out with the truth,” he said with some acerbity.
“Okay. Before you ask someone else to meddle with your cupboard further, put your hand deeper into the pile of shirts and report me back your findings, ”she said with a giggle.
Putting the phone aside, he ran his hand under the pile of shirts to find another shining box from reputed jewelers. He opened it to see in astonishment the Solitaire ring he had bought for Shreya along with another captivating platinum ring for man. My friend and myself could not suppress our laughter much to Sid’s annoyance.
The phone rang. “What did you find, my dear Watson? Was it elementary? Have you learnt a lesson? I have second thoughts on marrying you unless you make amends by calling the party again in the next two days and propose in front of all of them to signify you are no more a Romeo on the prowl,” Shreya stipulated.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

The unexpected outcome

Jagannathan after his retirement started visiting the famous Krishna temple twice daily as if to atone for his lapses in this regard while in service. He lived in a modest house very close to the temple. There was no hurry in steps or disappointment when there was long line for darsan at the various sanctums. He took leisurely walk around the corridors chanting hymns in praise of the Lord.
One evening as he was resting on a bench in one of the corridors, he chanced to see a young boy of 12 years piling white salt in crystal form on a small black stone before a minor sanctum. It was more a niche on the wall housing some minor god. It was a belief among the school boys (girls were rarely seen) that if one successfully piles the entire quantity of a kilo of salt on the small base of an elevated stone without spilling, he can be assured of good success in the examinations. This place would usually be visited by many students prior to examinations. None else went near the place save folding their arms in reverence while passing by its side.
Jagannathan saw the boy repeatedly failing to keep the entire salt on the base and seen wiping his face often in great tension. He took pity on the youngster and went near him and asked, “Shall I help you? You can put a small portion of salt at the end to signify that you had completed.”
“Thank you uncle. I am unable to do it. My mother would be worried as it is late already,” said the greatly relieved boy.
Jagannathan in a trice accomplished it and the boy put carefully a small quantity on the pile. After prostrating before the Deity, he turned towards Jagannathan beaming with smile to touch his feet and thank him profusely.
“What is your name and where do you live? This is no examination time. Why are you doing it now? It is unusual, “asked the old man.
“Yogesh, I live on the Eastern side of the temple tank. True there is no examination now. I am getting only average marks in mathematics while I am good in other subjects. I cannot afford to have tuition. I am praying to god to help me score high marks,” replied the boy.
Taking pity on the boy, he said, “I will teach you free for just three months and you will start scoring very good marks. You need not have to come thereafter. Take permission of your parents. I live in the house adjacent to the hotel you see on the Southern road. You ask for Krishnan’s house and they will point out. He is my son and popular here.”
He found Yogesh hardworking and sincere but lacked the concepts. He taught the boy daily in the evenings elementary algebra, geometry and solving various problems in arithmetic. His scores improved dramatically to the surprise of his teacher and parents. At the end of the year, he came along with his parents with a bag full of fruits to inform that he scored centum in mathematics and stood on the top of the class. Jagannathan was very pleased and blessed the boy. Thereafter they used to meet once a while at the temple or at the house and on one occasion he mentioned about the impending transfer of his dad to North. That was the last he saw the boy but his memory lingered whenever he passed by the small sanctum.
More than a decade had passed and Jagannathan’s visits to temple got reduced to only festival days. He fell sick frequently. The boy also had faded away from his mind. He was taken care of by his only son Krishnan who was getting a small income. His house stood out in a dilapidated condition while other houses were well maintained.
One morning as Krishnan was standing outside the house, a flashy car drew up to stop at the gate. Wondering who could be the visitor to come in such expensive vehicle, he found a young person in mid-thirties alighting from it.
“Is this not Jagannathan Sir’s house? Is he available for my meeting him?” the man asked. Seeing the bewildered look on Krishnan’s face, he said, “Don’t you recognize me? I am Yogesh. Sir taught  me mathematics when I was in school. Can I see him?”
“Yogesh, my god, you have changed so much since I saw you as a young boy. Appa is very much there and he was remembering you till a few years back. Sadly, he is bed ridden after a stroke and one portion is paralyzed. He is improving slowly but his mind is alert off and on. Only he is not mobile and cannot also speak clearly. Come inside, he will be delighted to see you,” said Krishnan. The driver placed a tall basket of fruits, dry fruits and nuts of various kinds.
“Appa, see who has come to meet you. Let me see whether you can recognize him,” said Krishnan loudly in jubilant tone.
The old man blinked for a short while and made feeble attempts to sit up. The dim light was switched on. Yogesh went close to him and said, “Can you see my face now? I am Yogesh and you made me what I am today, uncle.”
The old man’s face lit up after a pause and showed some evidence of a strained smile. He put his left palm on Yogesh’s head and gently caressed it. Tears started flowing from the old man’s eyes. He tried to say something but only some guttural sounds came out. Meanwhile Krishnan drew a stool close to bed for Yogesh to sit. Yogesh could size up the humble circumstances in which his benefactor was living in a dark and poorly furnished room with very little comforts to make life easy. He was emaciated and a pale apology to the uncle he knew.
Wiping tears from his eyes, Yogesh bent forward and told,” Thanks to you, I could do well in studies and did engineering. I studied further in US and am in a very good position. But for your spotting me at the temple on that fateful day, I would have been a total failure. You built in me a strong foundation. I could not meet you all these days as my father was transferred to North. I am visiting Chennai after my school days for the first time and you are the first of two persons whom I have come to meet.”
Jagannathan could not speak but was patting Yogesh repeatedly. He muttered something to Krishnan who turned to Yogesh and said,” Appa wants to know whether you are married and have any children?”
He nodded his head and showed two. Meanwhile Krishnan’s wife handed him a cup of coffee with her two young boys standing behind her. After a while, he stood up and bowing deferentially held the trembling hands of Jagannathan and said “As a token of my eternal gratitude for you, please allow me to take care of the education of your two grandsons till they finish PG in US if they like. I am like your another son and intend to take care of you in some ways possible, “and prostrated before him. Overcome with emotion, both could hardly speak except shed tears.
Yogesh put his arm around Krishnan and said, “Kindly give me your bank account details to enable me to remit the money once a quarter towards education of your children in a very good school. Do not worry about high fees as I am going to pay. I am very happy today as I could meet my living god and now I will visit the other one in the temple. Today happens to be New Year day.” He lingered for a while overcome with emotion and finally took leave of them.
It was evening when there was a message from the bank for Krishnan that his account has been credited with US $1,00,000 by a remittance from an American bank. The message was followed by another from Yogesh stating,” I hope your account has been credited with the remittance. Please use part of this to renovate the house completely including electrical work with couple of ACs and to acquire new cots and beds and other furniture. You can use the interest on the remaining amount for medical and other uses. I wish to keep your dad and my uncle in good comfort and reduce your financial burden. I will take care of your children’s education and remit you money periodically. Feel free to ask if you need anymore”
Krishnan’s jaws dropped at this unexpected windfall and rushed with his wife to his dad’s room and told him loudly,” Appa, Yogesh has remitted a huge amount of one lakh dollars that is more than 70 lakhs rupees. He has suggested that part of the amount be used for complete renovation and the interest on balance for other purposes to keep you in very good comfort. He has undertaken to bear the education of the two boys till they secure good jobs I am so excited at his munificence and immense regard for you.”
Jagannathan  slightly turned his head towards the temple  possibly to pay obeisance to the presiding Deity.
“No one who achieves success does so without the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude.”

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Happy Birthday

Doraiswamy asked his son Raghu for the fourth time when was Independence day.
” Appa, it is tomorrow. I have told you three times already. You are forgetting. Why do you want to know?” asked his son with some irritability.
Doraiswamy wanted to keep the purpose a surprise and said, “Just wished to know. No specific reason.”
Raghu looked at him quizzically and went to his room to get ready for office. “Sumathi, appa looks tired. Take care of him,” he said before leaving. He was worried that his dad was forgetful more and more of late and repeated the same questions
It was around 11 am when Sumathi came to her father-in-law and said,” Appa, my friend rang up to say her mother fell down in bathroom and broke her hip bone. She is admitted in the nearby hospital. I will see her and return within an hour or so. please do not go out. I will be back very soon.”
“Do not worry. Take your own time. There is no hurry,” the old man replied.
After she left, he took the small paper from his pocket to see it and added something in what was obviously a list. He wore a shirt and felt the pocket for the keys before he left for the shopping complex in the locality.
The first shop was to the bakery where he ordered a big eggless truffle cake and gave instructions on what is to be written on it, He also added to the order a dozen each of chocolate, snickers and vanilla cupcakes, paper plates, balloons, happy birthday banner to be hung on the hall, a crate of assorted soft drinks coke, sprite, mango and pineapple for delivery next day at 8am.He also asked for delivery of flower bouquet from the adjacent shop. Satisfied he took the paper to check he had not left out any. He rushed back to order paper tumblers and some festoons. He bought some small kachoris and jangris from a Rajasthani sweet shop.
He quietly returned home within an hour and hid the edibles from the Rajasthani shop inside his almirah. He found some urchins playing in the colony compound and asked them to come to his place at 10.30 am along with other children for the birthday party
He kept it a secret from his wife every year as he was always wont to spring a surprise on her. They were loving couple with each doting on the other. Their bond grew closer after his retirement. Each would feign sleep waiting for the other to sleep and often break into smile when they opened their eyes together. He drew a good pension and his son and daughter-in-law were affectionate. What more would one want, they would often say and be grateful to God for His grace. Sadly, she fell sick frequently for the last two years but the bond and affection only grew stronger than before.
The next day around 7 am Raghu and Sumathi well-dressed came to Doraiswamy and said, “Appa, there is independence day function arranged in our park. We will be back by 9.30 am. Take care,” before they left.
Promptly around 8 am, the bakery shop and the flower shop delivered the things ordered for. He asked two of the colony’s security men to help him in tying festoons, balloons and banner in his spacious bedroom. After they left, he arranged the cake and the other edibles on a table. He surveyed the scene and smiled happily at keeping things a total secret.
Raghu and Sumathi returned at 10.15 am. The whole home was fragrant with smell of sandalwood from joss sticks. Raghu looking confused looked at his father wearing a smug smile. Meanwhile Sumathi who had gone inside shouted, “Raghu, come to appa’s room and see for yourself what he has done.”
 He rushed in to see his mom’s photograph on the table with a bouquet placed in the front. The room was decorated with banner, balloons and festoons.
“Appa, what is all this? Are you in your senses?” he asked in a sad tone.
 “Raghu, don’t you remember it is your mother’s birthday today and she likes to be surprised and pampered. I have been doing it for years since you were born and you are asking as if it is something new to you.” He replied
As Raghu’s eyes became moist seeing the pitiable figure before him, he heard the loud knocks at the door. He saw a dozen beaming young boys and girls excitedly entering looking for their uncle. Doraiswamy came rushing to welcome them to his room. The children were puzzled to find no birthday person save a photograph on a table.
Doraiswamy asked the youngest child to light the candle and others to sing “Happy birthday to you” The children dutifully followed by loud clapping and laughter.
Raghu went near his father and put his arm around him and softly said with tears flowing from his eyes,” Appa, amma died a more than a year ago. You are living in a world of hallucination. Come out of it for your own good.’ Sumathi too came near the old man and held his hands with concern.
Doraiswamy did not seem to hear them but said with a gusto, “The children are waiting. Let us distribute the cakes, sweets and other snacks” He turned to them.” and said,” Enjoy to your hearts’ content. Grandma will be very happy.”
After the children left, he was reclining morose on his easy chair with a muddled look. Raghu was caressing him gently with concern, when his dad asked him, “Did you say, your mom passed away a year back. You never told me,” and then started weeping inconsolably.
"The best thing to hold onto in life is each other."

Sunday, December 22, 2019

An affair

The cash counter at Target was looking deserted with no line of customers at this part of the day. I had paid the bill and collected my things quickly and was slowly pushing the cart towards exit when I heard a voice from behind.
” Madam, can I have a word with you?”  I saw the counter assistant beckoning me. She was looking at me with concern just like my mom did when I did something she did not approve of.  The assistant at the counter could be a Mexican, less than 50 and did not seem very tall, as she craned her neck over the counter. Her face was familiar as I visit this branch frequently being close to my house.
Surprised I went near her and said, “Hi, how have you been? I hope the day is good.”
“Yes, thank you. Would you permit me to talk something personal of interest to you?”
“Why not?” wondering what personal thing she could tell me as my contact with her was nothing more than some pleasantries before paying the bill at the counter.
“Excuse me if I am wrong. I have been seeing you visiting this branch for the last one year or even less and sometimes along with your husband,” she said and added,” I have a daughter of your age working in another city close by.”
“You wished to tell me something personal. What is it about, Madam?” I prodded.
“Call me Linda. I am telling this only out of concern for you though it is none of my business to poke my nose. But I could not resist telling you as you look very much like my daughter,” she said.
“Cut out the preamble please. Tell me quickly what is it you wanted to tell me,” I said with some urgency
Linda pulled herself straight and said, “I have seen your husband many times along with you during your visits. But I saw him a week before coming with another young woman of about your age and I did not like the way she was behaving. That is why I decided to mention to you.”
“What is wrong if my husband comes with a colleague of his or wife of our neighbor? What is it that you did not like about her behavior?” I asked.
 “I agree with you it can be a colleague or someone from your community. But not in this case when a woman in public place cozying herself like a newlywed, always holding his hands or snuggling too close to him for comfort or jabbing his chest in mock anger and giggling all the time. But this guy happens to be your husband and I thought I should warn you as I have a liking for you for your polite and smiling ways of interacting with me always. Excuse me if you did not like my sharing with you what I saw. I was actually hesitant, “Linda spoke in an apologetic tone.
“Not at all. I appreciate your concern for me. I am married for the last two years and he has been very nice and affectionate to me. I can never associate him even in my dream with cheating on me. Since you say, you have seen him a week before with her and he was supposed to be busy at a conference in his office, I am confused. Can you describe her in detail? Is she an Indian? Did the man address her by any name?” I asked.
“Excuse me, will be right back in a couple of minutes” she said as she hurried to attend a customer who luckily had only one item to be billed. She came soon and said, “Sorry, they spoke in their native language and that too not much. She is brown, I am sure. Could be a Pakistani too. I was not also paying attention to their conversation. But, believe me, she is a beautiful woman, taller than you, putting on an appearance of coyness and had a captivating smile. Frankly, I must confide in you that I did not like her a wee bit.”
Some worry crept into me and suddenly an idea struck me.” Please note down my number. I am Vandana. The next time you see them here together, please give me a ring or send a message. I will be here within five minutes to catch them red handed. But I am hundred percent sure my man is not like that, “I told her.
Nevertheless, Linda seemed skeptical about my confidence when she said,” I hope to ring you soon. Mark my word.”
The whole night I could not sleep turning on the bed restlessly with some uneasiness. My husband was sleeping well snoring softly. His face was so innocent, I cursed myself for doubting him before dozing off to sleep.
The next morning when we were having coffee, I asked him gently, “Had you been to Target last week or so? The assistant at the counter told me, she saw you.”
“No, the last I went there was about three weeks back with you for buying some AA and AAA batteries and you had even remarked why I bought so many of them. Why do you ask?” he asked in surprise.
“Forget it. She was casually mentioning obviously mistaking someone else for you,” I replied.
It was Saturday morning a week later and my husband had gone to Super cuts, when I got a call from the Linda from Target. Could it be a ruse on the part of my husband to go to Target as it was adjacent to Super cuts, I suspected when I was on my way to Target.
When I reached the counter, Linda said in a whisper, “They are inside one of the aisles looking for something. She is in a colorful Indian dress and looks very nice. Please hide yourself on the chair over there. You can see me. When I see them coming to counter, I will signal you.”
After a long wait of 15 minutes, Linda winked at me. I remained where I was seated waiting for them to come to counter. When I saw the couple with the woman’s hand circling his hip and him placing the things on the counter for billing, I could hardly suppress my laughter. I closed the mouth and messaged hubby to come to Target immediately only to see him rushing in with a neatly cropped hair.
When we both went to the counter and stood by the side of couple, Linda was half confused and half baffled seeing the two men talking animatedly. I broke into laughter when Linda asked me who was my husband as they seemed to her completely alike like a photocopy. I explained the men are identical twins and my brother-in-law and his wife recently relocated to a town 30 miles away and must have visited Target on their way to our house. I assured her that to trained eyes, they are vastly different and I can identify my husband a mile away.
I requested both the brothers to stand side by side and requested Linda to spot six differences amid peals of laughter from my sister-in-law and the two brothers.
Linda threw up her hands and joined in our laughter.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Grandma's last wish

I read this story of mine by chance today and liked it very much.Most of you would have read this earlier and had a smile at the end.I have posted again for my new blogger friends and I am sure you would enjoy reading this again as I did.

My dad worked as a teacher in Town high school Kumbakonam. He had let his lands in the nearby village for tilling to the farmers who gave him a portion of the proceeds. We lived in a house in a street that ran parallel to one side of the school. That was my school too and my memory is still vivid of my scaling the short wall opposite my house instead of walking to the gate.
My maternal uncle’s house was next to ours. He lived with my grandmother, his wife and a daughter three years younger to me. I do not remember what my mama(uncle) did for living except that he went early to the big bazaar street daily to work in a shop and came home late doing some additional work in some other place. He had no landed property to fall back. They led a frugal life but never looked to us for any support. My dad sent them a few sacks of rice after harvest, but I suspect my mom ordered extra provisions each month and gave them to my aunt when mama was not there. She did not give the entire provisions at one time but in installments lest she refused in embarrassment. My dad knew it, I believe, though no word was spoken about it.
My mother went daily to see her mom in the afternoon while mama came occasionally to our place. Even on Sundays, he would be doing some errands for extra income.Bhooma, my mama’s daughter, who studied two classes lower to mine was a school topper and well known in the school for distinguishing herself in varied activities like sports, essay writing, debate and music competitions. I used to be jealous of her when she repeatedly appeared on the stage to receive cups and medals from the President of the school while I rarely went up the stage. She was popular among her friends and tended to dominate the group with her loud laughter and banter.
I was an introvert seeking comfort in the company of story books and mostly my patti (grandmother). She was very fond of me and relished telling me about various temples, lives of alwars and their hymns.
I still remember the day when Bhooma in my presence told my grandma, “Patti, you are making Sarangan an useless guy telling him, as if he is a child of five years, mythological stories and slokams. He can as well read them in Chanda Mama. He is not doing very well in studies. He is also shy, walking always  with his head bent and rarely talks to me in the school, let alone my friends.”
“Keep quiet, you silly girl. He is not loud mouthed like you but is quite intelligent. He can recite easily from memory entire Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam without faltering and knows many hymns of alwars. Be respectful to him as he is older to you by three years. He is a good boy and is naturally unwilling to talk to unknown girls..“Bhooma left in a huff jabbing her shoulder on her jaw in contempt.
”Ignore that brat, Saranga.I will tell her father to reprimand her. It is not good for a girl to be so egoistic and proud” consoled my patti as if I was hurt by her remark.
“It is Okay, patti.She told the truth only as I am shy by nature and also not a topper like her. She means good” I replied
“May be. When she gets married, she must learn to be respectful. Anyway I leave it in the hands of Lord Oppiliappan” I could surmise even at my young age patti’s secret desire that I should marry her and relieve mama of much expense towards marriage.(In our parts marrying maternal uncle’s daughter was very much in vogue)
I have never spoken to patti about Bhooma or what I thought of her. Though tall with lustrous hair falling up to hip, she had a bulbous nose with a shrill voice. Dominating and outspoken by nature, she did not endear herself to me though I held her in good esteem for her attainments in many fields. We often argued on petty matters and she ascribed this to my jealousy of her.
Years flew by and I had finished engineering and was working in a leading IT company at Pune.Bhooma had finished her graduation on scholarships and topped the university. She was selected in the campus by a reputed bank and was waiting for the offer letter. I had not visited home for nearly three years. Meanwhile there was a family function which my mom insisted that I should attend mainly for seeing my patti who was keeping indifferent health. She had grown old, very weak and was falling sick often. It seemed she expressed a keen desire to see me at the earliest.
The day I reached my home, my mom took me aside to the kitchen after the initial pleasantries, and told me”Saranga,I wish to share with you the piquant situation I am in before you meet your patti.She is not keeping well and doctor says that she may not live for long. She has been insisting that I promise her to have Bhooma married to you. I told her that this is a matter concerning you and that I cannot assure her anything without discussing with you. It is not that I have anything against Bhooma but feel both of you should warm up to the suggestion. Now that you are here, she may ask me again or even talk to you directly. I mentioned to your dad and he said this is something to be decided by you. What is in your mind?”
“Amma, frankly I have not thought about marriage at all and I am certain that Bhooma is not someone whom I would like to marry. Do not make any promise to patti. You can tell her the truth in plain words. If mama wants financial support for Bhooma’s marriage, I can pitch in some amount along with appa.I will certainly not marry her” I said
“I understand but remember patti is my mother and I cannot be as blunt as you are. Again you have not seen Bhooma recently in the last two years. She has changed a lot into a beautiful maiden and has turned very soft in speech. She has been selected for a nice job. You may even change your mind, if you see her. I am not trying to influence you. Anyway be prepared for patti’s query on this. I would not accompany you when you go to meet her” she replied.
When I went next morning to meet patti, the front door was ajar and she was alone. Mama as usual, had gone out and mami to a nearby temple.Bhooma was not to be seen. Patti sat up with difficulty and hugged me with affection and said” Saranga, I am extremely happy to see you and was really worried whether I would be alive to see you again. I have only one desire to be fulfilled before I shed this coil. I spoke to your mom but she is dodgy. I rely only on Lord Oppiliappan to open His eyes and your willingness to carry out my last wish.”
I grabbed the short pause as she was catching her breath and told her”Patti, I know your wish and I am sorry to tell you that I cannot fulfill it. If it is Bhooma’s marriage with me, let us not talk about it. If mama needs financial help, I can offer it to him. Sorry for being blunt. Please do not mistake me. I love you very much”
Her eyes became red with anger and she shouted “Who needs your financial help? Your mama is not a beggar to take it from you. Bhooma would earn enough for her marriage. I had lot of affection for and hope in you but never knew you were disrespectful to elders. I would not like to see your face again till my last breath. Please go away immediately from here.”
As I lingered and said “Patti, please listen. You cannot impose”, she cut me short with a scream  “Get lost now” and fell down on her side with her face turned away from me.
It was then I saw a shadow fall upon me and I found Bhooma entering the room from the hall. I could see her eyes moist.”Please leave her alone, Saranga.She is really sick and tension is the last thing she can have” she said softly. I knew she must have heard our conversation.
I could not believe my eyes how beautiful she had transformed in the last two or three years even as I stood transfixed before her.
”Saranga, please go away immediately. We cannot afford another hospital trip” she pleaded.
It was barely 30 minutes after I reached my home, we heard the front door being knocked repeatedly and loudly. It was Bhooma crying aloud that patti had breathed her last and her mom is yet to return from temple and that someone should send word to her dad. With utter disbelief and shock, we rushed to her house. Patti’s face looked as if she was under some pain and I knew who had caused it.
“Patti, please open your eyes for one last time. I wish to say that I would carry out your wish wholeheartedly. My disinclination to marry Bhooma stemmed from my inferiority complex as she always excelled me and my fear she may want a better person. I am sorry I displeased you at the fag end of your life. Please, will you open your eyes once? “I pleaded
Meanwhile a doctor was fetched by someone and after examination, he said “She had only fainted, may be due to weakness. Who said she had breathed her last? I have given her an injection. She should be okay soon. Please give her some warm beverage. There is nothing to worry”
From the corner of my eyes, I could trace a mischievous grin on Bhooma’s face and a much relieved amma. The tightness in Patti’s face seemed to have vanished. I could not resist the wicked thought whether Bhooma, patti and amma had in unison enacted this drama.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

A fateful encounter

Gopanna realizing that he was being taken to some unknown place asked the hazy and darkish figure that dragged him, “Who are you? Why do you drag me across weird places that I have never seen?”
“I am not supposed to talk with the souls I carry with me. I am a messenger of Yama (God of death). We have to do our duty and travel far. Please keep quiet.”
“Did you say souls? I am not dead and am no soul. I think there is a mistake. I am hale and hearty with no complaints whatsoever even a common cold. How would I die so early in my life?”
“I agree but you met with an accident and fell from the cable car you were travelling alone to the top of the hill. Since your time was up, I had to engineer a mishap to bring your life to an end.”
“I am 45 years old and my wife and two small kids would be waiting for my return. I am sure you must have committed a mistake. You have messed up my life,” cried Gopanna.
“Did you say you are 45 years old? What is your name by the way? Just wait, let me check,” the figure said and looking at its palm added, “I came to your building correctly and when I did not find you, I came rushing to where you were. Is there anyone by your name who is 65 years old in your building?”
Jumping with joy with a shred of hope, Gopanna replied, “Yes, there is Bopanna who lives in the adjacent flat. He is 65 years and has been ailing for long with some respiratory problem.”
“My god, I had made a serious blunder for the first time. Why do you people have similar sounding names? I am sorry for your predicament but you will find yourself alive now at the bottom of mountain where the cable car crashed. Find your way back to your home. I hope you are not seriously hurt,” said the figure before it hastily vanished possibly to claim Bopanna’s life.
Meanwhile Gopanna’s house was in great gloom. The crash of cable car at the top of hill was flashed in the media and hotly discussed. There was some small consolation that the causality was limited to only one passenger. Nevertheless, the rescue team plunged into operation despite the heavy rains during the intervening period hampering its efforts. The cable car had fallen into a deep gorge lined with big and small trees. Visibility was poor. While the broken car could be traced, the passenger’s body remained untraceable. The search was given up after intense search for couple of days.
Articles appeared about the technical flaws in the cable car operations and the suppliers’ failure to address them. There was a clamour that they be hauled up in the court. The state government under pressure with an ensuing by election in a fortnight in the constituency, announced a compensation of Rs.50 lakhs and issued a written offer of a job for the victim’s wife. The cable car company offered Rs.25 lakhs as compensation that was increased to Rs. 35 lakhs after hue and cry. The party in opposition, not to lose the opportunity, pressurized the government to give rent free accommodation till her retirement to victim’s wife.
Gopanna held a small position in the state government and was leading a hand to mouth existence in a rented flat. Though the loss to the family was irreparable, the generous gesture by the government and the company somewhat lessened the severity of the blow. All these happened in lightning speed within ten days before the date of the poll. Gopanna’s wife meanwhile had joined in the new job and moved into her new accommodation close by.
When Gopanna woke up to the roaring noise of a river, he saw around thick bushes and trees and realized that he was at the bottom of a hill as in a steep-walled canyon. Luckily it was morning and as he tried to get up, he found one of his legs broken and hanging loosely from ankle. There was a deep gash on his face below his eye up to jawbone. There were bruises all over the body. The saving grace was he was not hit on the head and was mentally alert. He looked around for help and there was not a soul visible. He cried in pain and prayed to god for long time before he dozed off to sleep.
He did not know how long he slept till he heard a soft voice, “Dear son, get up. This is not a place to sleep as wild animals would be on prowl. Let me help you to get up,” He saw a dark, tall but muscular figure in loin cloth  with long beard and matted hair.
“Do not be afraid of me. I roam in these areas. I have some powers and I will carry you up to the verge of the city where you will find people to help you. Just close your eyes till I ask you to open,” he said as he smiled betraying an unevenly aligned yellow teeth.
The next moment, he was asked to open the eyes to find himself lying on the road opposite a government hospital and the bearded man missing mysteriously. Let us skip the details of what happened after some good Samaritans admitted him in the hospital till he came out of it after two months with a crutch on hand to support the one amputated leg, with hideous and twisted face after several stiches from the eye to jaw and three fingers missing on his left hand. He had seen in the toilet the facial deformities that his beard and mustache could hardly conceal and so covered his face with a towel
When he limped to his old home, he found new occupants. They thought him to be a vagabond but he managed without revealing his true identity to find out that the previous resident was dead in a recent accident and that the bereaved family had moved to a free government flat in the Housing Board complex nearby and that his wife had secured a government job along with heavy compensation.
Gladdened at the fortuitous turn of events after the tragic accident, he reached his wife’s new place. Being a Sunday, she was there. Though he felt there was a look of sadness in her face, she betrayed no evidence of recognizing him, when she asked, “Whom do you want?”
“Is this not Gopanna’s house? Don’t you know who I am?’” he asked with a smile that accentuated the ugliness of his grotesque face. She recoiled with a sense of the dreadful figure before her and said, “I don’t know you. Please go away,” before banging the door shut.
He stood baffled and called his wife’s name twice and the door remained shut. He was in two minds whether to force his way inside by baring all the happenings or withdraw quietly. He thought what if she had not really recognized him? Would she not welcome him with extended hands if she really knew of his return despite the injuries?
It was then he heard a phone ring inside the house. He nudged towards the window of the front room unseen. He heard her voice clearly as she spoke to her elder brother, “Anna, I think it is him who had come a while ago. He looks scary and repulsive in appearance. I could not recognize him initially but when I saw the dark round mole on his forehead, I realized who it is. I immediately shut the door.”
Gopanna could not hear what was spoken by her brother but could surmise from her response about what was spoken. He was aware that her brother has a shady and criminal past
“That is why I pretended not to know him. What you warned struck me too. I am aware the government would take away the job, the house and even a major portion of compensation.”
“I agree he cannot get a job and will only be a burden. I am also averse to live with such a warped man though I am willing to pay him monthly some amount for his upkeep if only he would keep quiet. Please advise me what I should do?” she asked
“Ok. I will stay put and hope he goes away caring for his children. If any development occurs, I will let you know,” she concluded the phone call.
After half hour she peeped through window to know that he left and let a sigh of relief. For two months there was total silence and she never heard or saw Gopanna again till one day the boy in the adjacent house gave her a sealed cover addressed to her by name informing her that someone came and asked him to deliver.
She hurriedly opened to see,
Dear Gowri,
You will be shocked to see this letter from me after my unwelcome visit. I thought of leaving you alone and fend for myself somewhere. I am not getting any job and people drive me away when they see my repugnant figure. I had nearly put in 20 years of service and will be entitled to pension if I prove my identity. But that would affect you adversely as you know the government would withdraw from you  all facilities and even compensation. More than worrying about you, I do not want my children to live in poverty.
I have two proposals to make. One is you pay me 25% of the compensation received by you and the second one is to allow me to stay with you and the children for three days in a month. This will assure you of my total silence. You may hand over the reply in a sealed cover to the boy in the adjacent house in a week.
Lovingly Gopanna
Gowri rang up her brother knowing that she had a blackmailer on hand and this may not be the only or last request. He would milk her when he ran out of money till the last rupee. The neighbours would also start suspecting who he was frequently visiting her. She wished to know what she should do. He replied he would talk to her in person.
When the subject came up during his visit the same evening, her brother cryptically replied, “Do wait for some time to see what he is up to. Meanwhile I will find ways to stop him from troubling you anymore. Leave this to me. Do not tell anyone about his visit or about the letter. Burn it and wash it down in drain.”
 Gowri was still worried but strangely there was a total silence for more than a month with no more communications or visit from Gopanna. 
When she mentioned this during her brother’s next visit, he told her smugly with a wry smile,” Be in total peace. I have ensured that he does not trouble you anymore. Do not talk about this matter anymore and especially on phone with me”
Gowri stood there with a lump in her throat and tried to fight back her tears.